The Associated Press

There are no two ways around it. Be it because of fatigue, injury, travel, playing surface, or β€” gasp β€” a superior opponent, the Portland Timbers got thwacked on Sunday night. Orlando City ran it up on the champions, pouring it on in a 4-1 win that was entertainment as much as it was competition.

Portland started the game lethargically, and played most of atrociously. With the notable exception of Diego Valeri, not a single Timbers player was worthy of the space he occupied on the field. Misplayed passes, untracked runners, and lost individual battles set the stage for a massacre.

Orlando, feeding off their tremendous home crowd and the return of captain Kaka, played their part. Their performance was peppered with the kind of tenacity and joy that we've seen from the Timbers on their best nights at Providence Park. Portland had no answer β€” and, with a crucial month unfolding, Caleb Porter's predicament is an increasingly troubling one.

When these two teams met last April in Portland, Porter was blindsided by a terrific game-plan from his Orlando City counterpart Adrian Heath. The Lions won that game 2-0, and in many ways, it was that upset that set the stage for the rematch fifty weeks later.

Heath was adamant coming into the game that his team matched up well with the Timbers. Porter was confident that he'd adjusted and prepared his team for what was to come at the Citrus Bowl. Once again, it was the Englishman who proved prescient.

From the get-go, Orlando had the Timbers on their heels. The hosts certainly exploited a numerical advantage just in front of Portland's backline, but it was more so their pace and awareness relative to the Timbers that made the difference.

Seb Hines beat Nat Borchers to an inch-perfect Kaka free-kick to take the lead after thirteen minutes. Brek Shea made it two with a sensational smash off a one-two with the Brazilian superstar to make it two just past the half-hour mark.

Portland's only real chance to get back into the game was through an extremely lucky penalty at the end of the first half, when a deflection brought the ball onto Shea's arm. But Fanendo Adi's penalty was miserable β€” a meek, choreographed effort that was easily saved by former Timber Joe Bendik. Kaka scored immediately after the start of the second half, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

The impressive thing about the carnage was that it mostly came without Cyle Larin involved. The reigning Rookie of the Year withdrew from proceedings midway through the first half, leaving Kaka to play striker in a formation that shifted between a 4-5-1 and 4-6-0.

But even with Orlando's only true number nine and only elite goalscorer off the field, Portland reeled. Kevin Molino added a penalty to make it 4-0, before Jack McInerney pulled a goal back to make the final score 4-1.

The Timbers' 4-3-3 needs two things to be successful β€” a dominant defense, and plenty of possession. In Orlando, neither ingredient was present.

The defense, so tough last year, looks sickly. Two terrific weeks of training were enough to convince Porter to hand Jack Barmby his debut at left-back, but within minutes, it became clear that the young Leicester City product wasn't ready for primetime.

But Barmby's nightmare β€” and you really couldn't understate how bad it was β€” was understandable. Alvas Powell's shocker would be even costlier. Four years into his Timbers career, Powell is still turning off when not directly involved in play. His wandering attention played a major part in two of the concessions.

At center-back, Liam Ridgewell's absence has been costly. Jermaine Taylor is too slow in every facet of the game to compliment Borchers, and Porter should consider other options for next week. With the current tandem at center-back, Portland has gone down by two, two, and four goals and shipped eight total in three games.

As long as the Timbers are waiting for Ridgewell's return β€” or Chris Klute's, which finally appears to be on the horizon β€” the 4-3-3 is no sure thing. In Orlando, the defensive situation was exacerbated by Portland's inability to hold the ball.

It looked like fatigue was a part of that. A number of Timbers players traveled internationally over the last two weeks with their national teams, and the six-plus hour trip to Florida β€” where the weather was predictably sultry β€” couldn't have helped matters. Those internationals, like Darlington Nagbe, Powell, Taylor, and Adi, all had unusually poor performances.

Orlando, it should be noted, was excellent. LA can commiserate with the Timbers. When they visited the Citrus Bowl as defending champions last year, they too were curb-stomped 4-0. Orlando was hot, and the Timbers scurried out of the kitchen. One man, in particular, stood out.

Kaka's play was tremendous, but his presence after missing the first three games of the season was a lift for the entire club. He played a part in all four goals, assisting two, scoring one, and then letting Molino β€” who had never scored in MLS β€” take the penalty at the end of the game. His reaction of pure jubilation after Molino scored was a clear indication of why he's so beloved.

The Timbers are now winless in their last three, but if last year taught us anything, it's that MLS teams don't play for keeps until the fall. There's no reason to panic yet.

The next few weeks β€” with games against Western Conference contenders LA, Dallas, and San Jose lined up β€” will be about how this team bounces back. It's becoming clear that the formula the Timbers used to win MLS Cup isn't working right now with different players.

Losses happen. Bad losses happen β€” especially on the road, especially against good teams. But no team has been better than bouncing back from losses than the Porter Timbers.

This season, and this upcoming stretch, is the type of challenge that Porter and his MLS Cup-winning players should relish. They need to adapt, to compete, and to rise to new challenges. If the Timbers are the team we think they are, they'll reinvent themselves again.